Harry pulled into a roadside cafe as soon as James’ and Albus Severus’ nagging started to get on his nerves. This was approximately five minutes after it started. He thought he’d done well to get in a full hour’s driving in before someone started whining for food or tried to strangle a random sibling.
They were still in Scotland: Harry could tell by the sheet of drizzle that separated his windshield from the rest of the world. Beyond that he was clueless. He’d followed turns and intersections without considering directions at all. He also hadn’t spoken a word since James and Albus Severus got into the car. They were suitably cowed by this anomaly, but only for a time; just until their ever-growing stomachs got the better of them.
The cafe stood in line with a few dozen houses and a post office on the outskirts of a town – name, unpronounceable. The children tumbled out of the car and ran inside before Harry could stop them, or Transfigure the car blankets into raincoats. He rested his head on the steering wheel for a few seconds before following them.
The cafe was done up in swags of chintzy material, around curtains, chairs and tables. Drusilla would have loved it. Harry let the sound of high-pitched voices guide him to his offspring. They’d snagged a booth – which displayed to its fullest the travesty that was flower-printed leather – and were arguing over the single menu.
“I’m the oldest, I should get to look first,” declared James. The point was moot as the menu was firmly ensconced in Lily’s sticky little hands.
“Ladies first,” said Lily, demonstrating the only point of etiquette she’d ever learned.
Albus Severus had no similar angle, but that didn’t stop him. “We have to share,” he said. “Lily, you’ve had it for ages. It’s my turn now.”
Harry sank into the booth beside Albus Severus. The three fell silent, until it became apparent that Harry was neither going to deal justice nor intervene. At that point the war resumed and continued, unabated, until their noise caught the attention of the serving staff.
Given the kind of night Harry had just suffered, it hardly even surprised him to see Draco Malfoy standing before him, swathed in a flowered pinny.
Their eyes met; Draco’s cheeks went white, then pink, then red.
“’Lo, Malfoy,” Harry acknowledged.
“I –” said Draco. “Typical. Of all the cafes in all the world, you just had to walk into mine.”
“You own this place?” Harry glanced around with a modicum of interest.
“No,” said Draco shortly. “I do, however, work here. Are you ready to order?”
“Good God, no.” Harry was amused. “We’ll have three separate tantrums, one change of mind, two demands for outrageous items not on the menu, and one count of grievous bodily harm, before that marvel occurs.”
“Da-ad,” objected James.
“Are you ready to order?” asked Harry.
“Well ... no.”
“That’s what I thought.” Harry turned back to Draco, who was fiddling with his apron. “Could we have two more menus, please? Just to forestall the outbreak of World War Three.”
“Of course.” Draco’s fingers twitched in a manner Harry knew well – the instinctive reach for a wand while in the company of Muggles. That the five wizards were the only people in the cafe had nothing to do with it. Circumspection was key in places like these, devoid of every last trace of magical interference.
After Draco located extra menus and delivered them to the booth, the children were silent for a time. Harry, his gaze fixated on the rain running down the window, was late to realise this was not from poring over the Mega Breakfast Deals.
James, as the oldest, knew his duty. He began the interrogation. “Why did you get us out of school?” he asked. “Is Mum okay?”
“No one died, did they?” Albus Severus’ lip trembled. “Marco got called out of class last week and he thought he’d got in trouble for the Dungbombs in the Gryffindor dormitory –”
“That was Marco?” James exclaimed. “The little rotter! I’ll slaughter him!”
“- but it turned out his aunt had died,” continued Albus Severus doggedly. “And she left him a singing teapot that won’t stop singing and we’ve all had to sleep in the common room for days.”
“I have to go to day school soon,” Lily announced. “Will we get back to Godric’s Hollow by ten o’clock?”
“If everyone could just pipe down for a bit,” said Harry. There was instantaneous and creepy silence. “Your mother has left home.”
As dramatic statements went, this one fell short of the mark. Albus Severus and James exchanged confused looks, and Lily went right on colouring in the picture of singing tomatoes that had come with her menu.
“Where’d she go?” James wanted to know. “On holiday?”
“I can’t believe she went on holiday without us!” Albus Severus was highly aggrieved.
“How long is she going away for?” asked James.
“Forever,” said Harry. “She’s leaving me, she’s leaving us. She’s having another baby –”
“Oh, no,” groaned James.
“- with a different daddy.”
“You mean ... not you?” quavered Albus Severus. “Is that allowed?”
Harry laughed: a horrible sound. “Apparently.”
Lily froze in place, crayon held aloft, and stared at Harry with big wide eyes. Like a frightened snake, she never blinked. Albus Severus began to cry, James to shout. After a while Harry left them to it, staring across their heads to the speckled window.
James was just beginning to get hoarse when Draco returned, tray in hand. Harry roused himself enough to question this glitch.
“I know you didn’t order anything,” replied Draco. “I just thought – well.”
“What are those?” asked Albus Severus. Liquid was still streaming out of his every orifice, and a large snot-bubble hanging from his nose threatened to pop at any second.
“They’re raspberry flummeries,” said Draco. He placed a dessert glass in front of each child and whisked a napkin out of his pocket. He held it to Albus Severus’ nose. “Blow.”
“Do they have chocolate in them?” That was from Lily.
“Better than that – they have crushed-up raspberries, lots of sweet cream, and some chopped hazelnuts on top. Delicious. And best of all, they’re a special treat. You’re only allowed to have them when your mum and dad split up.” Draco held out a spoon to Lily, who took it as gingerly as if it held a live tarantula.
Albus Severus was already digging in. James was the only one who hadn’t so much as glanced at his flummery.
“Who says?” he challenged, brown eyes narrowed.
“I do,” said Draco. “I made them for my son and daughter when I left their mother. It didn’t change anything, and it didn’t make them feel better, but at least they got something out of it.”
“Huh,” said James. “I’d rather have Mum come home than some stupid dessert.”
“A lot of kids probably wish things like that,” agreed Draco. “It doesn’t happen, though. On the other hand, your flummery is there, and you can eat it. That’s life.”
James stuck his finger into the whipped cream and scooped out some hazelnuts. “It’s okay, I guess,” he said grudgingly.
“Sometimes okay is all you get,” said Draco. “If you want to order anything else, I’ll be over at the counter.”
“I want green tea,” said Lily. She’d developed an unaccountable fondness for it, despite the decline of her interest in China. Draco just nodded, servile obedience personified.
Albus Severus was nearly finished his flummery when he held out his spoon to Harry. “Want some? It’s really good. Maybe that man could give Mum the recipe and – oh. Will we ever see Mum again?”
“Yes,” said Harry, who up until that moment hadn’t been sure. It would have been a just and fitting punishment for Ginny if he didn’t allow her to see the kids. “Of course. She’ll probably come up to Hogwarts as well, to explain things herself.”
Albus Severus’ face was screwed up. “I don’t understand. How can she have a baby without you?”
“We did have the Talk before you went to school, didn’t we?”
“Oh yes,” said Albus Severus, too quickly. “You mean she did ... that ... with someone else? Yuck, yuck, disgusting.”
Although Harry was inclined to agree, he also felt a ticklish urge to laugh. He excused himself and went to find a bathroom. He had the feeling he looked a proper savage.
Draco stood at the counter with a fistful of bills, but his eyes were on Harry’s children as they ate their flummeries. James tried to con Lily out of the remainder of hers. Harry stepped noiselessly towards Draco, feeling strange about the look on his face.
“I had my suspicions.”
Harry didn’t ask why Draco hadn’t told him. The answer was easy to see. “Who?”
“I’m not the one who should tell you that.”
Draco hesitated. His hands restlessly fanned out the bills. Harry clenched his fists in his pockets and waited.
Eventually, as Harry had known he would, Draco relented. “Basil Forte,” he said.
“Oh, um – about yay high, grey hair, dapper little man. He was married before – I think she died. No kids. He’s a high up in the Department of Magical Law Enforcement. Your Weasley would know him.”
Draco looked at him oddly. “Hermione.”
“Have I met him?”
“How the hell should I know? Probably. He’s not very memorable.”
“Not like me, eh? Written up in a dozen history books before I was two. She was clearly going for the man on the street.”
“It’ll be all right,” said Draco, and: “Harry. It will.”
“No, it won’t,” said Harry. “Nothing will ever be all right again.”
And he went returned his children.
Fifteen minutes later he was back. “Hey, Draco? Do you know the way from here to Hogwarts?”
Harry slid back into the car, shivering and wet after just a five-second dousing. Draco was drumming his fingers on the wheel. Somewhere around Aberdeen, he’d hollered a spell to stop the engine, and yelled and pushed and threatened hexes until Harry’s children were cheering and Harry was forced to let him drive. They made the rest of the trip in just under two hours – half the time they’d spent with Harry driving and either ignoring or arguing with Draco’s directions.
There was silence for a time. The windows steamed up. Harry’s hair dripped on to the upholstery and the rain made a sound like butterflies trapped in a paper lantern. At last, Draco said, “I keep a flat in Hogsmeade. You can – dry off, Floo out. Collect the car later. Whatever you want. I’m not letting you drive in this condition.”
Harry wanted to say something about how Draco regarded speed limits as things to be broken not obeyed, but he didn’t. Tired to the bone, he simply nodded.
He closed his eyes as Draco drove them down the winding road to Hogsmeade. Lily hadn’t wanted to be left at the gatehouse for Ginny to collect. However, in a spectacular display of cupboard love, she’d changed her mind once the tantalising smell of Drusilla’s cookies reached her nostrils. James and Albus Severus were delighted to have a signed note from the Headmaster excusing them from homework. Harry didn’t know if this were a testament to the amazing resilience of childhood or plain old denial at work. Either way, he was glad they had made no further fuss. Let Ginny, the instigator of this cruel madness, deal with that.
It was only when the soft purr of the engine cut off that Harry realised they’d arrived. With a furtive glance, Draco tucked the car keys in his own pocket.
“I have to key in a code to get inside,” he said, “but after that we can Apparate straight up.”
He took Harry’s silence for assent. When Draco opened the door and darted into the rain, Harry did the same: only, he plodded. Who cared about rain? It was only wet.
Draco’s hand on his shoulder grounded him, making him feel the chill throughout his body contrasting with the warmth of Draco’s skin. He found himself pushed into an armchair, the centre of a flurry of activity as Draco lit lamps, kindled the fire and brewed up delicious smells from the kitchenette.
“Take off those wet things,” instructed Draco. “I’d berate you for staining my second-hand sofa, but you are going through a capital-T tragedy, after all.”
“Gee,” said Harry, voice as dry as his clothes were wet. “You’re the milk of human kindness, you are.”
“You know, people tell me that all the time.”
Harry peeled off his robe. He was only wearing a t-shirt and boxers beneath, both an attractive shade of grey. Ginny had ‘better things to do than separate colours and whites,’ he remembered with a pang. Draco clucked as Harry bent over to untie his shoelaces.
“All of ‘em, Boy Wonder. I won’t have you coming down with pneumonia. I might catch it.”
Harry raised his eyebrows. In turn, Draco flushed and scowled.
“I’m turning my back,” he called. “I’m walking away. I’m definitely not sneaking a peek at the Potter crown jewels. I’m fetching you a towel to cover the hairy arse I absolutely didn’t see...”
“I don’t have a hairy arse,” growled Harry. He snatched the towel out of midair and wrapped it tightly round his hips.
“See? Told you I wasn’t looking.” Smug, Draco handed him a mug of soup. “Sit in front of the fire.”
Harry didn’t need telling twice. As he warmed up, he felt just how cold he was. Draco reappeared with a dressing gown and another mug of soup. After a few minutes, a plate of toast floated in from the kitchen.
“What, no raspberry flummery?”
“Only if you want it.”
Harry shook his head. “Where did you learn to cook?”
“Used to sneak into the kitchens and order Dobby to teach me.” Draco grimaced. “It’s a wonder I learned anything, really. Every time I made a mistake, Dobby would upend a teakettle over himself, or something similarly ridiculous. Bloody house elves.”
“I see you don’t have one now. Signed up to SPEW, did you?”
“Hardly. I just can’t afford one.”
Harry took a closer look at his surroundings. Second-hand, shabby furniture, a dearth of luxury ornaments, holes in the carpet. The fall of the house of Malfoy. “What happened?”
“Death Eater taxes,” said Draco. “Or ‘Bursaries Collected for the Relief of Voldemort’s Victims.’ He had a lot of victims, did the Dark Lord. Fifty thousand Galleons a year’s worth.”
Harry gaped. Seventy thousand Galleons was a standard Ministry salary for the higher-ranking posts, and Draco’s wasn’t that. “How do you manage?”
Draco shrugged. “I work in the cafe, which I specifically picked because of its distance from any registered wizard. I also rent out the Manor to Muggle tourists and business companies. It’s hosted about forty weddings, not including my own. Astoria’s husband helped me set it up. He’s a decent chap.”
“Will I say that about Basil Forte, in ten years’ time?”
“Ginny will come back to you,” said Draco. “What you have with her is nothing like what I had with Astoria – moonbeams and infatuation.”
Harry felt a wetness crawl down his cheek. He turned his head away from the light. Draco shouldn’t see him cry.
He fell asleep there by the fire, like an old man. He woke up in a bed. Draco must have got him there. Harry even thought he remembered being carried.
Draco was always crap at Levitation Charms.
“There’s two types of tea: one with potion, one without,” Draco asked every morning. And every morning for a week, Harry said, “With,” and spent the day curled up in Draco’s ratty little pull-away bed, while Draco Floo’d to work.
On Sunday, when he knew Draco would be around (Saturday he went to Hogwarts to see Hypatia and Scorpius – Parent’s Day was Neville’s brainchild), Harry said “Without.” The hangover from the potion was brutal, but it was nothing to being wide-awake to his loss.
Just when Harry thought he’d seize up from choked-back tears, Draco came into the room. He didn’t say anything, just lay on the bed behind Harry and put his arms around his waist. Harry clutched Draco’s hands like life buoys on a storm-wracked sea.
“Just relax now,” whispered Draco. Harry could feel the damp outline of his lips as he nuzzled Harry’s shoulder, and gentled his brow with cool fingers. Harry kept a tight hold of one of Draco’s hands. They stayed like that for a long time.
“Draco, I –” Harry turned in the circle of Draco’s arms, but he was already kneeling up and away.
“Don’t,” he said, putting a finger to his lips. “And we shall never speak of this again, agreed?”
“All right.” Harry was rolling his eyes, a new lightness of spirit pervading him.
On Monday he went back to work.
Harry was carefully sealing envelopes when Draco returned from upstairs, mouth prissy. “You!” he said, pointing and sitting down at the same time. It was a minor miracle that he didn’t miss his chair.
“Me,” returned Harry.
He didn’t falter in his task. He’d decided to send letters to every Ministry employee regarding the proper completion of expense claims. It was easy enough to call up the database (by hacking into Ron’s files), and he wrote the letters on his personal headed parchment, so people would take notice.
“You haven’t told Weasley where you are!”
“Which Weasley is that? Ron Weasley, my best friend; Hermione Weasley, his wife; or Ginny Weasley, my ex-wife?”
“She still styles herself Potter,” said Draco. “I keep telling you this thing with Forte is a flash in the pan. But Hermione, Harry. You haven’t told her where you are. She’s mad with worry – mad enough to accost me in the corridor and demand information on your whereabouts.”
“You didn’t give her any, did you?” Harry dropped his current envelope.
“Catch me,” said Draco scornfully. “But she’s a slightly intelligent witch, by all accounts, and when she’s exhausted all her other avenues of inquiry she will come back to me. Simple process of elimination.”
“I don’t want to talk to her.”
“That much,” said Draco, “is obvious. But why?”
“What could she say? How could she possibly understand?”
“People get divorced a lot. I did. It’s not quite the earth-shattering event you imagine. Trust you to turn all this into a three-ring circus.”
“My wife’s having a baby with another man!” said Harry sharply.
“Yes, and I think there are a few natives in the Amazon who don’t know that by now. Is this going to be the rest of your life? Living in my flat, doing my job, never seeing your kids?”
“I visit Lily’s playschool every week,” Harry objected, “and the boys are at Hogwarts – they wouldn’t see me anyway. If you’re hinting that I should move out, then bloody well say it. Don’t pussy-foot around the issue.”
“Move out or pay rent,” said Draco. “My place is tiny, in case you haven’t noticed, and I can use all the cash I can get.”
It took only a moment’s struggle before Harry said, “All right. How much do you want?”
“Rent. How much? And don’t think you can use extortion just ‘cause I’m filthy rich.”
“No, wait. You’ll pay me money to live with me?” Draco jumped up and felt Harry’s forehead. “You don’t feel feverish.”
Harry knocked his hand away. “Did you happen to pass the Auror department in your travels?”
“Yes,” said Draco. “Sampson Pye has covered your desk with hundreds of little balls – why is that?”
“I’ll go to Gringotts in my lunch break.” Harry sealed his last envelope. “Two hundred a month okay?”
“Yes, so you and Rita Skeeter constantly aver. But when a madman is giving you gold, I think the term changes to ‘pleasantly eccentric’.”
“Mad,” said Draco, firmly.
Harry smiled and went back to plotting reform.
Harry came out of the bathroom in a cloud of steam, toothbrush sticking out of his mouth. As he passed by the hall mirror, he speculatively jiggled his belly.
“Middle-aged spread,” said Draco, helpfully, from the couch. He was reading Which Robe? with sarcastic delight. “Too much beer and curry, according to this venerable tome.”
“What causes fat arses like yours, then?”
“I’ll have you know I have a bubble-butt,” said Draco with dignity. Harry snickered.
“What the hell is that?”
“Perfectly spherical buns, I believe.” Draco flipped a page. “Astoria used it on me once. Apparently it’s supposed to be a flattering comment.”
“It resulted in Hyp, so I’d say yes.”
“Is my stomach really that bad? Be honest.” Harry stood in profile and tried to suck in his belly. His chest inflated to match it, but there was no discernable difference in his abdominal region.
“Yeah, pretty bad.” Draco rolled his eyes. “But if it’s any consolation, you have a bubble-butt too.”
“I’m going on a diet tomorrow.”
“Basil Forte weighs about fifteen stone,” said Draco. “You’re winning, don’t worry about it.”
At that point the doorbell rang. “If it’s those Mormons again, tell them I’ll believe in Jesus when he comes down from Heaven with a wand in one hand and a bag of Galleons in another,” said Draco.
Harry opened the door to Ginny. “Shit.”
“Who is – ah.” Draco folded up Which Robe? “I’ll make myself scarce. But try not to yell too loud – the walls are paper thin.”
Harry almost wanted to tell him to stay. But that was silly. Ginny looked wretched. She was here to beg for a reconciliation, like Draco had prophesied. Draco had no place in that.
“May I come in?” Hesitancy was written in every new line of Ginny’s face.
“Of course.” Harry whipped the toothbrush out of his mouth and opened the door wider.
“Thanks.” Ginny walked – no, waddled – to the sofa. “My legs are swelling up like balloons. Standing for more than five minutes at a time is torture.”
“I remember that.”
“She’s due in a week.”
“Is Basil disappointed you won’t be providing him with a son and heir?”
“Basil is over the moon, like you were with Lily.”
“Any names yet? I hope there’s a few beginning with A, to match the scarlet letter she’ll be wearing.”
“I had thought you’d be reasonable by now,” said Ginny, frowning.
“So we could all hold hands and play happy families? Fat chance.”
“This is the way things are now,” said Ginny. “You might as well get used to it.”
Surprising himself, Harry said, “I am used to it. That doesn’t mean I have to like it.”
Ginny sighed and patted her belly. Harry looked at her objectively. She’d gained weight with this pregnancy – quite a lot of it. Her hair was frizzy, her face bereft of a single scrap of makeup. Her ankles were thick and covered in scaly dry skin. She’d stuffed her feet into ugly sandals. They were probably the only thing that fit.
Harry couldn’t remember her being this ugly before. Possibly he’d been so delighted at the ends that the means didn’t bother him. Or maybe he’d been too in love to notice.
He was noticing now.
“I want to ask you something,” said Ginny. “Maybe it’s too soon, but – well, the baby will be along very soon. The kids’ll have to meet their new sister, even if you don’t.”
“I was hoping you’d bring them to meet her,” said Ginny. “In an ideal world, of course, you’d meet Basil beforehand. I’d hate to think you’d be so overcome with rage that you’d punch him out while I was in labour.”
“That’s one good thing, I suppose,” said Harry. “You squeezed my hand black and blue the last three times. I haven’t got proper feeling back in my little finger since Lily was born. I guess that’s Basil’s job now.”
“What, holding my hand or getting maimed?”
“Both, I suppose,” said Harry. He realised he was smiling at his wife for the first time in four months. Actually; more than that. They hadn’t smiled much at each other for a long, long time before that.
“Are we good now, Harry?” Ginny leaned forward, as if she wanted to take his hand but didn’t quite dare. Harry didn’t help her, but he didn’t freeze her out either.
“We’re okay, I think,” he said. “Sometimes, that’s all you get.”
In the end, Harry was present for the entire birth. So were Draco and Basil; Albus Severus and James with Drusilla, who’d Portkeyed them down; and Lily and Mrs Chugworthy, who refused to believe that Draco had Harry’s permission to take Lily out of day school.
At the time Draco had been calmly filing, barefoot and in jeans. Harry had discovered this was his wont on the days when he had no contact with other parts of the Ministry, which was most of the time.
Harry was dividing his concentration between the daisy tattoo on Draco’s ankle and drawing up a schema for the redistribution of Ministry funds. He’d conducted a survey into the use of Face-Floos by the Auror Department the week before. It had yielded some interesting results regarding deployment percentages. It was amazing what you could achieve with some headed paper, provided your name was Harry Potter.
Basil had burst into the office like a short fat hurricane, with far more ease than Harry’s first attempt at it. This was mainly because Harry had appropriated an underling from Hermione’s secretarial staff and set her to filing the backlog. Harry occasionally wandered into the labyrinthine filing room and brought her tea.
“It’s coming, it’s coming!” gasped Basil. “What shall I do?”
“Do you need a sword?” asked Harry.
“What?” Basil was so flustered it was doubtful anything penetrated the confusion, but Draco was nothing if not pugnacious.
“Heroes,” he muttered. “Don’t listen to Harry. Do you need a car?”
Basil did. Draco, who had never relinquished the car keys after the night Ginny left, drove. In petty revenge Harry sent Draco to fetch his children, while Harry kept himself busy with the monumental task of preventing Basil from having an aneurysm.
Their first meeting, two days before, had passed off without incident. Basil was witty, Harry could tell, even if his jokes went over Harry’s head most of the time. Ginny certainly laughed a lot.
Basil was greatly altered now.
“Most women don’t die in childbirth,” Harry felt obliged to point out. It was the wrong thing to say.
“She might die?” Basil half-screamed. A Healer sent Harry a dirty look.
It was a relief when the kids showed up, even if Lily immediately called Basil ‘my New Basil Daddy.’
“If we ever needed proof that she swam in your gene pool,” observed Draco, “that was it.”
It was a long night. Basil followed Ginny’s trolley into the birthing suite, looking like death warmed over. The rest of them spread out across the waiting area.
“There’s no such thing as a free shag, is there?” said Draco, half an hour later.
“Harry, what’s a shag?” asked Lily.
“A type of carpet,” said Harry. Draco pulled a face. “Well, it is.”
“I don’t know what kinds of carpet you keep company with,” said Draco. “And quite frankly, I don’t want to.”
Mrs Chugworthy made her departure at about that point.
Drusilla stayed on, hoping to see ‘the bundle of joy.’ As Draco whispered to Harry, ‘I can’t believe she actually said that.’ Verbal crimes aside, Drusilla turned out to be invaluable in keeping the children entertained, with endless games of I-Spy and deep pockets full of all sorts of goodies. Meanwhile, Draco and Harry sat – and lounged, and slumped – in the uncomfortable chairs outside the ward.
“Nice woman,” yawned Draco, as Drusilla hurried off to find Lily her seventh green tea.
“Ginny?” Harry was practically comatose at this stage.
“If you say so,” said Draco. “I actually meant Drusilla.”
“Funny thing,” said Harry. “Always thought Nev would stay single. Thirty-five years of never finding that one soulmate, you’d give up. I’d give up.”
“Yes, it’s a good thing you found your soulmate at sixteen,” drawled Draco.
“Nah. I don’t believe in soulmates. Pretty bad thing if I did, considering. No, I reckon there’s just people. If you’re lucky, you get along well enough, and that’s it. Okay is all you get.”
“Okay’s not bad,” said Draco. “Compared to terrible, or depressing, or frightening. And you do realise you keep stealing my line?”
“You’ll get over it,” said Harry. “You forgave me nearly tearing your chest open.”
“You forgave me for trying to kill Dumbledore.”
“I did, didn’t I?” Harry tried to remember when that had come about – before he’d seen Draco’s ankle tattoo, or after?
“So we’re quits on that. Stealing my lines is quite another matter.”
Constance Pearl Weasley-Forte was born at three o’clock in the morning. Harry was the only one awake to greet her. He had to move Draco’s head from his shoulder to follow Basil into the birthing suite.
“I’ve always loved the name Constance,” said Ginny, cradling the tiny, surprised-looking infant.
“Hey there, Conny,” said Harry. He tickled the baby’s chin.
“I suppose I deserve that,” said Ginny, “for Bussy.”
Harry cleared his throat. It struck him that, while Ginny had been grossly unfair to him, he hadn’t been all that fair to her either.
“Say hello to your uncle Harry – Constance,” he said. He gravely shook her little hand. Ginny laughed and started to cry. Harry had done the very same thing to Lily, Albus Severus and James.
“I think you should go now,” said Basil, gently pushing him out. Harry was glad to go; glad and sorry. It should have been him in there. But it wasn’t. And that was okay.
He walked slowly to the waiting area to wake Draco and Drusilla. The kids could hang around to meet Constance, but it was time to take Draco home.
Draco looked up from Scorpius’ latest letter. Despite Draco’s essential Draconess, he couldn’t conceal his delight in his son’s better-late-than-never mode of correspondence.
“Scorp mentions James a lot,” he said, as if this were worthy of suspicion.
“I think they’re friends now,” said Harry. He sat back on his heels. “What do you think?”
“Do not try and distract me with greenery,” said Draco. “I am not to be foiled. Did you put your son up to making friends with my son?”
“Now you’re thinking like a Slytherin,” said Harry. “James figured out that Scorp was the original recipient of the raspberry flummeries. They probably bonded over it. It’ll blow over once James gets the recipe out of him.”
“That sounds like something Bussy would do,” said Draco.
“Al – Bussy is intelligent before he’s noble,” said Harry, “and Scorp would very likely rip his head off if he tried.”
“James’ neck appears ripely unsevered,” observed Draco.
“You see? Gryffindor.”
“Who made this up in the first place?” complained Draco. “I bet Godric was a sneaky old fart and Salazar was a bumbling fool. Rowena’s hobby was making pies and Helga’s was –”
“Writing potions textbooks?” suggested Harry.
“I was going to say ‘researching the uses of dragon’s blood,’ actually.”
“I don’t think it matters. They had a good idea: put kids with other kids who are like them. All the Founders were probably bloodthirsty medieval maniacs. But keeping the bookworms away from the loud, outspoken braggarts is nice for the bookworms.”
“And the braggarts?”
“Aren’t undermined by the skeezy gits, or annoyed by the do-gooders.”
“For shame,” said Draco. “I thought you were the world’s number one do-gooder.”
“I am,” said Harry. “I put up with you, don’t I?”
“Oh, is that what you’re doing? I thought you were just squatting.”
“Shut up and look. I made you a garden.”
“A rose garden?” queried Draco sardonically, but he put down Scorpius’ letter.
There was a little fire escape under Draco’s kitchenette window. Harry had made it bloom. Nearly every flower he could think of was represented, except roses. Never roses.
“It’s ... beautiful.” Draco paused. “Does that count as a compliment?”
“Would it hurt if it did?”
“Shut up,” said Harry, again. “And it’s your turn to cook.”
It all came about rather abruptly, like continental plates crashing.
“We should get a bigger place,” Harry said, one mellow May evening. “The kids’ll need somewhere to stay.”
Draco turned his head sharply. They were sitting on the fire escape, surrounded by fragrant spikes of narcissus, which didn’t leave him a lot of room for sudden gestures. Harry only just avoided head trauma.
“The kids?” Draco repeated, as if he’d never been involved in the process of reproduction.
“Yeah – Lily, Bussy, James, Scorp, Hyp? I know your two stay with Astoria a lot, but you’re entitled to have them some of the time. Ginny and I are trading off weeks. I’m sure they’ll prefer it here to a place with a squalling infant, but only if there’s somewhere to sleep.”
“You’re never going to leave, are you?”
Harry frowned. “I hoped we could get a bigger place later on. After all, this flat is a fleapit.”
“But, no.” Draco struggled for words. “This isn’t just a temporary measure. You think you’re going to stay here, with me, always.”
“It’s a bit weird, all right,” agreed Harry. “But it’s been a very long time since I wanted to kill you. In fact, I quite like you now. But don’t let it go to your head.”
Draco didn’t come back with a killer rejoinder. He just sat there, staring at Harry with big glassy eyes.
“What’s wrong? Fine, I’ll admit it. I like you a lot. I might even love you a little –”
“Stop.” Draco grabbed his wrist, fingernails piercing the skin. “What are you saying?”
Words had never been Harry’s strong suit. He was a man of action.
Draco jumped when Harry kissed him, and protested. The sounds were muffled and short-lived. I
It turned out that Draco Malfoy was easy. All it took was a little tongue and Harry’s hand on the back of his neck, and he melted like ice on a warm day.
He tasted really good, too. Harry felt a little dizzy. It had been so long since he’d kissed, and been kissed, with intent. He thanked his lucky stars that he hadn’t actually forgotten how. It was like riding a bike.
He pressed Draco back against the wall, feeling crushed petals under his knees. With a wet gasp Draco curved up against him, hands clutching, drawing him closer. Not so much like a bike then. More like something unfamiliar, something exciting, something wonderfully new.
(The last time Harry had seen Hermione, she’d asked him how he was.
“Okay,” he said, “I’m okay.”)
Hot hands slipped under his t-shirt, caressing the soft skin. With some effort, Harry lay Draco down under him. His face was framed by swaying lilies; laughing and a little scared. Harry licked at his mouth, revelling in the slow hot slide of tongues.
“I’ve never done this before,” gasped Draco.
“Don’t worry, I did a bit. You know, before I got married,” said Harry. “I watched some porn, too. I think I know what goes where.”
“I don’t know what to be more insulted by,” said Draco. “That you watched porn to research seducing me, or that you planned to seduce me.”
“Why, what would a Slytherin have done?”
“This,” said Draco, and stuck his hand down Harry’s pants.
Harry gasped in shock and moaned in pleasure. He rubbed against Draco even as his hand moved, giving himself over to the bliss of the moment. An embarrassingly short time later, he collapsed on Draco’s chest.
“You lied,” he accused him. “You have done this before.”
“Yes. On myself, you twit.”
“Oh. Oh.” Harry brushed his hand down Draco’s side, watching as he shivered. “That’s going to come in handy.”
They only left the fire escape when the neighbours began to complain.
Harry stepped around the boxes of Face-Floos and reflected that it was fortunate maintenance had retained the packaging. The company wasn’t best pleased to have the order returned outside the warranty, but there were a lot of uses to being Harry Potter. Harry was discovering more and more every day. Sampson Pye had been the only one to complain about the loss, and even he’d stopped once he got an autographed stress ball.
“Finished the Department of Mysteries audit?” asked Draco.
“Yup,” said Harry. “Three more Departments to go, then we can start implementing the reforms I reported.”
“You can, you mean,” said Draco. “Someone has to do the filing.”
“Speaking of which, you need a pay rise. How’s fifty thousand Galleons sound?”
“Lovely, but aren’t we trying to, oh, curtail the overspending?”
“This isn’t overspending. Once the reforms are put through the Wizengamot, we’ll be saving so much the goblins will curse my name.”
“I adore the way you think you can run the world,” said Draco.
“I know you adore me,” said Harry. “And it helps to know where Hermione hides the whips.”
By this time he was standing with Draco’s knees between his legs. Harry bent down to catch Draco’s lips in a quick, filthy kiss. Draco’s hand unerringly found the gap in his robes and slid through, sending tingles down Harry’s spine. Draco was barefoot again. He insisted that Harry was unhealthily fixated on his feet, but Harry noticed that Draco rarely wore shoes now when he didn’t have to.
When they were through, Draco looked considerably more rumpled. His wickedly curving wet lips suggested he knew, and liked, the state he’d in which he’d left Harry. They’d agreed not to have sex at work after the little secretary found Draco in Harry’s lap, jeans around his ankles and cock sliding into Harry’s tight fist, and fled in horror.
On the other hand, it was as good a way as any to come out.
Harry still kind of missed the days when he could whisper to Draco, “Bend over the desk – I want to fuck you now.” Draco had never once refused, although he’d complained enough about getting the stains out of his blotter. Of course, Harry never got those kinds of thoughts except when Draco sat with his legs spread in that lewd way, apparently ‘balancing accounts.’ Harry believed that this was called a vicious circle.
It was a pity there was nowhere private for them to go. Only one official in the Ministry was allowed to lock their office door, and Harry wasn’t it. Yet.
“You know,” said Harry thoughtfully, a finger tracing the bump at the top of Draco’s spine, “I looked it up, and most of the Ministers for Magic before 1970 were former Heads or Vice-Heads of Accounts and Boring Paperwork.”
“I don’t care by what margin you win the popular vote,” said Draco, “I am not becoming your trophy wife.”
“That’s okay,” said Harry.
And it really was.